Sunday, November 15, 2009

8 Grains a Week

I love most grains, especially rice. I really do. The more I cook them, the more I learn about them. They are a staple food in my pantry, and for long term food storage.

There are dozens of varieties of rice, of course. I can't tell most of them apart by looking. I've got to check the package. There are other grains I love, too, and I like to alternate them in recipes. Most are easy to cook and make a pleasant change in some dishes. I certainly don't recommend eating them raw unless you can get them fresh.

Here are eight common varieties of grains. After all, variety is the spice of life ... right along with nutmeg and turmeric.

White Rice
A refined grain, white rice has been hulled to remove chaff (the outer husk of the grain), and then further milled to remove the bran and germ. It can be stored for a very long time, but lacks certain nutrients.

White rice acts as an accompaniment to, or ingredient in, more dishes that I can count. Long-grain, medium grain, and short grain varieties are available, though I prefer short and medium grain rice. There are more varieties of white rice than you can shake a stick at. Basmati is a famous type of long-grain rice, while Calrose rice is the most common form of short grain rice, accounting for 90% of rice consumed.

Brown Rice
Similar to white rice, but not as refined, brown rice still contains the bran and germ of the grain. It has a nutty flavor and is rich in vitamins, minerals and protein. As with white rice, there are long and short varieties available. It does take a little longer to cook than white rice, in order to soften the bran layer.

Instant Rice
An alternative to white or brown rice, the grains are milled, polished, fully cooked, and then allowed to dry. Unfortunately, this results in significant loss in flavor and texture. The grains never stick together, however, and are quick and easy to cook. Mostly, it's available in long and medium grain varieties.

Wild Rice
Not actually related to the rice plant, wild rice is the seed of any on of four species of grasses that grow well in shallow water or slow-moving streams. Three of these varieties are native to North America, while the other is native to China.

Wild rice is highly nutritious and has become quite popular. In spite of some difficulties in it's domestication, it is now widely cultivated throughout American and Canada. In China, however, it has lost its importance and is now hard to find. Because of the increasing population, and difficulties in domestication, most of its habitat has been converted to regular rice cultivation.

Cracked Wheat
This wheat product is made by crushing raw wheat kernels, or cutting them into smaller pieces. As a whole grain, it is rich in fiber in nutrients. Many people use it in breads, as a base for vegetables or meats, like couscous, or tossed with green salads.

Similar to cracked wheat, bulgur is made by toasting and steaming wheat kernels until the husk is cracked, and then dried. It is very popular in the Mediterranean and Middle East. It is often used in pilafs and tabbouleh.

This small-seeded cereal grain group shares agricultural and food function, but is actually any of several unrelated grasses. Interestingly enough, millet has similar nutritional content as wheat, making it totally appropriate for people with coeliac disease, and other forms wheat or gluten allergies and intolerances. It should not be eaten in large quantities, though, especially by anyone with thyroid difficulties.

I most enjoy cooking it with rice, at a one to one ratio, in the same pot. It has a mildly sweet-nutty flavor and creates a nice texture variation when combined with the rice.

Corn (Maize)
Most often, corn is eaten fresh, canned or frozen. When dried it can be ground into flour, or made into a favorite, low calorie snack – popcorn. Maize is also one of the most common genetically modified (GM) and transgenic crops. Most of what you buy in todays supermarkets, marked or not, is GM corn.

While maize is seen as a staple food, what's not alwats understood is that cultures that use it that way either soak it first in lye (that's where hominy grits come from) or eat such a balanced diet around it, including lots of beans, that it didn't matter. Without lye, the niacin in corn is not liberated, resulting in niacin and certain protein deficiencies. Once that process was understood, high lysine varieties were developed.

Photo by Poohsayhi


Joy said...

I am a grain lover too! There is no end to the wonderful recipes and the wonderful varieties!

Angenette said...

I've been getting into Quinoa as of late. Very interesting, like a couscous with better texture and loads of protein.

John Newman said...

I've never tried quinoa. I've read a lot about it's nutritional value, and it's amazing. It's got such a great balance of amino acids that it's considered a complete protein. Most grains have to be combined with some kind of bean to gain that status. I've also heard that you can eat quinoa greens as a leafy vegetable.

RR said...

I love grains, too! Thanks for distinguishing the difference between cracked wheat and bulgur, because I was curious.

Synaura said...
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